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Walther on the Office of the Holy Ministry

Paul R. Williams


Although C. F. W. Walther certainly intended to give a sure, clear and definite “voice of the Evangelical Lutheran Church on the question of . . . the Ministry,”[1] it is nevertheless astounding how many contradictory views fly under the banner of a ‘Waltherian view’ on this topic. On the one hand, Walther has been accused of being “guilty of exalting the clergy,” in fact, of “giving every Missouri Synod clergyman justification for being a kingfish”[2] in a way which might make Walther seem little different from Stephan himself. On the other hand, Walther is more often accused of being the chief cause of the worst of contemporary Wichita-like Lay Ministry excesses, which would ultimately erase any distinction between the Ministry and the Common Priesthood held by all Christians. Are any of these “Walthers of Missouri Synod faith” in fact, faithful to the real “C. F. W. of history?” More pointedly, is such confusion about Walther his own fault, because he did not speak clearly enough, or the fault of his readers, because they do not listen to him carefully enough?

Thinking clearly about Walther must begin, of course, by first letting him speak for himself in his own native tongue. In this way, one cuts through all the various contemporary translators, interpreters, and ‘spin doctors’ who might seek to force their biases or prejudices on Walther and make him say something different from what he actually said. When one listens to Walther speaking for himself, one cannot fail to see that he wishes to remain faithful to the Scriptures and to the Confessions, and to be ‘normed’ by them. In fact, Walther constantly invites his readers to test his works by such norms. In this way, Walther always points one back to the church’s proper normatas, both normans and norma, and he wishes all that he says to be fitted into the context of the Scriptures and the Confessions, and not the other way around. But even more than this, Walther never wants the reader to stop testing him against these norms. For the true Waltherian, a quia subscription to whatever Walther says is not enough; it has to be no less than quatenus!

In order to let Walther speak for himself, one must hear him speaking within his own historical context. During Walther’s lifetime, the Office of the Ministry was a hotly debated topic throughout the Christian church at large. In the 19th Century the church was threatened from without by such alien secular and political forces as rationalism and nationalism, and for many of that day the only solution seemed to be to strengthen the church’s internal authority. Therefore, in Roman Catholicism, Ultramontanism stressed the authority of the Pope, culminating in the declaration of his infallibility at the First Vatican Council in 1870. Within the Church of England arose the Tractarians who emphasised the independence of the Bishop from the state through his apostolic succession.

 However, not everyone with concerns about secular influences in the Church and her Ministry found a more powerful church hierarchy to be the solution; indeed, for some, such a thing was precisely part of the problem. Friederich Schleiermacher, for example, believed just as strongly as Roman Ultramontanists and Anglican Tractarians that the church must be freed from alien secular and political domination: “As soon as a prince declared a church to be a community with special privileges, a distinguished member of the civil world,” wrote Schleiermacher, “the corruption of that church was begun and almost irrevocably decided.”[3] Nevertheless, Schleiermacher strongly criticised a “priestly government” which “falsely makes its `foundation stone . . . the higher personal religious worth of the priests.’”[4] Schleiermacher argued that such a thing runs counter to the key principle of the Reformation, that the “individual enjoys the privilege of an immediate relationship with Christ through the Spirit,” and is himself an “able discerner of truth” without the need for “mediating individuals or institutions.”[5] For Schleiermacher, therefore, the church is freed from secularism when, as he states in his Utopia of Church Order, there is the “free impulse of [the Christian’s] spirit, the feeling of heart-felt unanimity and completest equality, the common abolition of all first and last, of all earthly order.”[6] The Church is a self created community, and it therefore follows that her Ministry is also of human creation. Though Schleiermacher conceded that there must be an “ordered public ministry” so that the church’s presence is not “isolated and sporadic in character,” he nevertheless gives “to every Christian the right of leadership.”[7] In order to protect such a right, Schleiermacher appears to stress a form of a ‘transference theory’; no individual or small group can represent Christ; all the more must we regard this transference of offices as deriving solely from the whole body. The formation of the clergy into a self-contained and self-propagating corporation has no Scriptural basis of any kind. Only when the religious consciousness of the people is left unfettered can the ministry of the church flourish.

Like Schleiermacher, the growing confessional Lutheran movement of 19th Century Germany was deeply concerned with rising secularism and liberalism, and also highly suspicious of government interference in church affairs. However, there was much division among confessional Lutherans concerning what the solution for such a problem should be. On the one hand, T. Kliefoth, A. Vilmar, and W. Loehe believed, in direct opposition to Schleiermacher, that in the church ordinary Christians could not be left to rule themselves, but must rather be ruled by clergy, “the strong princes of the church.”[8] Like princes, clergy cannot simply grow out from the people, but rather, arise by succession to the ministerial office “person to person, by reason of God.”[9] The Predigtamt was a divinely instituted, self-perpetuating class essential for the life of the church. “Not [that] the office originates from the congregation, but it is more accurate to say the congregation originates from the office.”[10] Indeed, Loehe believed that “if exclusive clerical control cannot be allowed—that is, if there must be leadership in the church directly from the laity—then it is better that the prince rules and not the member of the church: `a tyrant is easier to endure, indeed one there must be, than the many.’”[11] According to Loehe, the Ministry was brought into existence not from the universal priesthood, but was rather constituted by Christ as a divinely instituted autonomous order, and maintained by ministerial succession, existing parallel with the congregation which it served.

Directly opposed to Loehe were the views of J. C. K von Hofmann of Erlangen and J. W. F. Höfling. Responding to Loehe’s Aphorisms concerning New Testament Offices, von Hofmann wrote, “`after a long time fighting against those who made the office dependent on the congregation, those who make the church dependent on the office’ must now be debated.”[12] Von Hofmann objected especially to Loehe’s view that the effectiveness of the Gospel is made dependent upon the office, making it, in effect, ‘ecclesiastically bound’. According to Von Hoffman, “Loehe confuses gifts given to the entire church with the institution of the particular office.”[13] Though the Ministry, to be sure is distinct from the priesthood, and must have its independence guaranteed from ‘individual congregations’, it is not to be ‘placed over the church’. For J. W. F. Höfling the common priesthood is divinely instituted, and to it alone belongs iure divino the church’s ministry. “The power of the clergy cannot be properly understood as being caused by a particular, individualised power of grace that resides within the office itself,” but rather, resides in the Word itself. Therefore, for Höfling it is contrary to the essence of the Gospel to understand a ‘ministry’ which is separately ordained by God apart from the common institution of the universal priesthood. For Höfling, the Ministry emerges “by an inner necessity out of the priesthood itself, that is, by the latter’s delegation (übertragung) of its individual members’ spiritual rights and powers to one of themselves, for the sake of good order.”[14] However, what is meant by Höfling in his use of the term ‘ministry’ which is instituted is nothing more than the mere functions of proclaiming the Gospel and administering the Sacraments. For Höfling, ministers are chosen “for the sake of order,” by which he meant merely “human ecclesiastical and liturgical order.”[15] What is instituted is merely that they be done; there is no institution of an office of someone who is called to do it.

Even before the development of this debate over the Ministry in Europe, Walther confronted forceful expressions of both sides of this issue in America. On the one hand, in the wake of the Stephan disaster, C. E. Vehse in 1839 anticipated Höfling’s views on the Ministry. His views have been summed up as follows: 1. All Christians are priests, by virtue

of baptism and faith. In the New Testament priests are born, not made. 2. The office of priest belongs to all Christians and all have the same power. All are to teach the word of God. 3. The office of priest is given by God to the congregation. 4. To make a certain order a spiritual order as if it were so instituted by God is to build on the wall of the papacy. 5. It is a condemnable proposition to claim that a priest is more than a Christian. 6. The office of the ministry is no more than a public service where something is enjoined upon a person by the whole congregation.[16] Later these same arguments were taken up by Adolf Marbach at the Altenburg debate in April, 1841. On the other hand, on Dec. 1 1840, Grabau issued his Hirtenbrief where he argued in a vein very close to Loehe. This document was directed against a group of Lutherans from Wisconsin who wanted to know whether it was possible for the functions of the ministry to be exercised by a schoolteacher. Grabau wrote back that no one could exercise the office of the public ministry unless he had been publicly called, according to the practices of the old orthodox Kirchenordnungen.

In the midst of such an already raging controversy, Walther shaped his own views on the Office of the Ministry. Towards which of the two poles of this question would he lean? As we shall see, Walther cannot fully be understood from either of these two extreme positions, but rather, only from a new, careful middle ground between them. For instance, in the Altenburg Debate, Walther already carefully steers clear of both positions. One, in fact, would be hard-pressed to say who Walther considered to be his chief opponent—Stephan, whose heavy-handed hierarchialism had almost destroyed the demoralised Saxon settlement, or Marbach, against whom, after all, Walther was debating. Indeed, a careful look at the debate shows that Walther has two objectives, firstly, to refute Stephan’s dangerous errors, and secondly, to develop an ‘anti-Stephan’ position of the Ministry which avoids and defends itself against the ‘functionalism’ of Marbach and Vehse.

Grabau’s Hirtenbrief, in which Walther sees a `second, unrevised edition of Stephan.’[17] gave Walther the occasion to clearly develop his middle view. The first response to Grabau in the name of the Saxons, was made by Löber, who wrote:

“it seems to us that, in the first place, with regard to the old church orders, that you emphasise so much, what is essential gets confused with what is non-essential, divine with human, so that Christian freedom is restricted. Secondly, however, it seems that you attribute more to the office of the ministry than is due, and that thereby the spiritual priesthood of the congregations is diminished.”[18]

One already notes the careful balance between two extremes. One the hand, Grabau is roundly criticised for his overemphasis on human externals and nonessentials; only what is divinely ordained can be considered essential; therefore, one cannot absolutely insist upon the traditional Kirchenordnugen. On the other hand, it cannot be overlooked that in the primary argument of the Hirtenbrief that one is not to preach or to administer the sacraments if he is not a Prediger, Löber actually expresses full agreement with Grabau. Löber’s objection is not whether, but rather on how the Prediger is to be put into his office, and what relationship the Prediger has with those (the congregation) he is in his office to serve.

Within the ensuing debate between Walther and Grabau, Loehe issued (in early 1850) his opinion where he sided largely with Grabau. In response to this, Walther was commissioned by the 1850 Missouri Synod convention to write a book on Church and Ministry, directed chiefly against Grabau, but also intended to “counteract the growing disapproval among the brethren in Germany.” At the following convention, Walther presented, Die Stimme unsure Kirche in der Frage von Kirche und Amt, which was the primary work of C. F. W. Walther on this topic.

A look at Walther’s theses on the Ministry might properly begin where Walther begins: the phrase of Thesis 1, “Das heilige Predigtamt.”[19] We may first inquire why Walther uses such a term rather than the other terms very close to it in meaning, especially ‘Pfarrer.’ Walther refers to himself as Pfarrer on the title page of Kirche und Amt, and while he uses both Predigtamt and Pfarramt as parallel terms in the first two theses on Ministry, in Thesis 7, Predigtamt is used alone. We may assume that Walther viewed the two terms as virtual synonyms, although it is evident that there are slightly, yet significantly different shades of meaning between the two. Pfarramt refers specifically to a particular person in the Amt with the heavy nuance on “its specific located reference (Pfarre, parish).” Predigtamt, however, refers to one in the Amt, with heavy stress on what he does (Predigt, preach). [20] Therefore, in Thesis 1, what Walther does by referring to “Das heilige Predigtamt” is to lay less stress on the particular man in the Office and more on the duties which such Office has him doing (preaching).

Are such “duties’ referred to with “Predigtamt” in Walther’s theses nothing more than mere abstract functions which are without concrete doers doing them? In the witnesses of Thesis 2, Walther cites with approval a distinction between office in abstactio and in concreto by the 17th Century theologian Ludwig Hartmann. Like Hartmann, Walther holds that AC V “does not speak of Predigtamt in concreto or of Pfarramt but of the Predigtamt in abstracto.”[21] In this way, Walther lays himself open to the charge that what is instituted by God in AC V and in Thesis 2 are nothing more than mere functions to be done. Furthermore, he also creates “a tension between his Thesis Two, which identifies Predigtamt and Pffaramt, and his supporting argument, which divides Predigtamt and Pfaramt.”[22]

Such tension, however can be resolved by pointing out that what Walther refers to in this way are not two Predigtamts but rather one Predigtamt considered from two perspectives, concretely, focusing upon its incumbents, (the preaching Officer) and abstractly (the preaching office). The Predigtamt in abstracto therefore does not refer merely to the Means of Grace, as an activity, alone, but rather to ‘the preaching office’ by which the activity of the Means of Grace is carried out. Walther clearly understood Predigtamt ‘in Abstracto’ in this way when he says that it is “when the state or the office itself is being considered.”[23] Therefore, even when Walther views the Predigtamt in abstraction, he is referring to the position by which the functions are being carried out. Reading on in the witnesses of Thesis 2 one discovers why Walther was compelled to emphasise that Predigtamt must at times be considered abstractly, rather than concretely: “because of those who desire to make the Pastoral Office a Means of Grace and co-ordinate it with the Word and Sacraments, as they assert that it is absolutely necessary for salvation.”[24] While, of course, for Walther, the gifts of Word and Sacrament cannot save unless there is a giver to give them, and the Predigtamt (‘in concreto’, actual concrete giver!) is the divinely ordained office to do just that, nevertheless, such means of grace do not derive their power nor efficacy from the Predigtamt.

Thus, for Walther, the duties of the Predigtamt are therefore tied to the Amt which performs them. The term ‘Amt’ has been noted to “embrace both functions of service to the people appropriate to each of society’s many offices, and the official positions that take shape in institutional form to ensure the proper carrying out of those functions.”[25] Here we see Amt also referring to ‘activity’ and ‘position’. Sometimes, in fact, the meaning of Amt can strongly imply activity, such as the ‘Amt der Predigt’ and ‘distribution of the sacraments’. Emphasised here are such activities which are done. Nevertheless, there is no Amt of preaching going on unless the mouth of the preacher does so, and no sacraments can distribute themselves, but only as there is a concrete one distributing them. Therefore, the term Amt, even when stressing activities, never does so without also implying the position of the one who is carrying out such activities of the Amt.

Bearing this in mind, we are now ready more fully to see what Walther says about the Predigtamt. One can be very clear what Walther intends to mean with this term, for indeed, each one of Walther’s theses in Kirche und Amt begins with the phrase “Das Predigtamt” (or some direct reference to it) and then goes on to say something about it. In thesis one Walther begins by noting that the Predigtamt is not merely synonymous with the “Priesteramt, welches alle Glaubige haben,” but is rather “verscheidenes Amt.”[26] Then Walther says that the Predigtamt, so distinguished from the Priesteramt, is “keine menschliche Ordnung,” but is rather “von Gott selbst gestiftetes Amt.”[27] The Office of the Ministry is distinctly ordained by God and is to be distinguished from the Common Priesthood of all Christians. By saying this Walther places himself squarely behind AC XIV, and sets himself clearly apart from the views of Höfling.

It is therefore somewhat perplexing to see some scholars placing Walther within the same category as Höfling simply because of their common opposition to Loehe. Green, for example, views Walther, along with Höfling, to have an ‘anthropocentric’ doctrine of the Church and the Ministry “in which the church is the sum total of people who have come together to constitute a church and who themselves call a pastor from their midst,”[28] against which is a ‘theocentric’ view, in which the church “originates with Christ, Who Himself founds it and calls its pastors and preachers.”[29] Such distinctions, however, fail to identify the real differences between Loehe and Walther. In fact, according to these definitions, the views of both Walther and Loehe are at the same time both anthropocentric and theocentric. Loehe, of course, would agree that pastors do not become pastors by an immediate call from God but rather mediately through the instrument of some “people who have come together to constitute a church,” and “who themselves” then “call a pastor into their midst.” Is not Loehe therefore, ‘anthropocentric’ in the same way as Walther? Walther explicitly states in Thesis 1, that “Die Kirche . . ist . . . “vom hl. Geiste herausgerufen,” and what is more, in Thesis 7 of “Das Heilige Predigtamt” that it is “von Gott. . . übertagene gewalt.” In other words, Walther also agrees that “the Church originates with Christ, who Himself founds it and calls its pastors and preachers.” Would it not follow that Walther is as every bit theocentric as Loehe?

For this reason, “general agreement seems to exist that the 19th Century debate in Europe and America concerning the doctrine of the ministry” is best characterised not by a two, but rather a “threefold perspective.”[30] Walther represents a via media, a mediating position which is significantly different from the positions of both Loehe and Höfling. In Theses 4 and 5, Walther develops this carefully weighed mediating position. In Thesis 4 Walther differs from Loehe by declining to consider the Predigtamt as “ein besonderer. . .heiligerer Stand.” One might ask what Walther sees to be the difference between “besonderer . . . heiligerer Stand” which the Prediger is not, and ‘Amt’ which he is. It obviously does not mean that Walther is opposed to distinctions between clergy and laity—indeed, he has already defended such distinctions in Thesis 1. Clearly, for Walther, just because the Predigtamt is not a ‘Stand’ does not mean that “everyone’s a minister”; they are to be distinguished. Nevertheless, such distinctions are made between those in the Predigtamt and those who are Laity within the totality of the universal priesthood in which both are together and to which Walther refers as ‘Christenstand.’[31] The pastor, for Walther, does not stand outside of this Stand as pastor, but rather within it. The pastor is a member of one Stand, and therefore cannot belong to another Stand without himself being outside the Christenstand!

Only within the common Stand of all Christians does the Prediger have an Amt, and only when that Amt is clear and distinct do all Christians have a Predigtamt. Ironically, this careful distinction between Predigtamt and Laity in one Christenstand is jeopardised by both Loehe and Höfling in two opposite, yet similar ways. Höfling eutychianises the Predigtamt and the Laity by dissolving all distinctions between them. Without such a distinction, there is no divinely ordained “Amt des Dienstes” within the Christenstand. When however, the clergy are set above and outside the Christenstand in a separate Stand, there is the danger that they and the laity are nestorianised, so that without such close ‘intercommunion’ between them, the clergy cannot be an ‘Amt des Dienstes’ for the laity. Between such extremes, Walther keeps a careful ‘Chalcedonian’ balance between the Predigtamt and the laity, so that the two ‘without confusion, without change, without division, and without separation” exist together within one Christenstand.

For Walther, the Christenstand consists necessarily of a divinely ordained distinction of Predigtamt and Laity; it is “wenn gehorig geordnet, aus Predigern und Zuhorern besteht”[32] “when properly organised, consists as both preachers and hearers.”[33] This is very critical, for it means that whenever Walther speaks of ‘Kirche’ or `Gemeinde’, he is always speaking of both Predigtamt and Laity together, each in their proper callings and vocation, and never one without the other. While both Clergy and Laity have the keys, they do not have them in one undifferentiated way. In the same way that the Gemeinde is divinely differentiated between Clergy and Laity, there is also a distinction between two different ways in which the laity and clergy have the church’s authority of the keys.

      Such a distinction can be seen spelled out more clearly when one sees how Walther describes the position of both Clergy and Laity with respect to the Office of the Keys. Walther notes that the Catechism teaches “the Keys” to be “that special authority which Christ has given to His Church.” Since ‘Church’ refers to both Laity and Clergy together, this cannot mean for Walther that the Keys are given exclusively to the Clergy and not to the laity. Thus, Walther would criticise Loehe’s belief that the giving and receiving of the Keys are essentially a clerical affair, not one of the whole Gemeinde together. The Gemeinde is “Inhaberin aller Kirchengewalt oder der Schlussel.”[34] The clergy have the Keys only along with and never separate from the Laity. However, for Walther, neither does Gemeinde, (which holds all churchly authority), refer to “all the laity of the church minus the clergy.” Walther’s Kirche und Amt cannot be construed as some Lay Charter of Rights or Magna Carta, or worse, as a statement that makes the laity in charge of the church without the clergy. The laity do not have the keys to the exclusion of the clergy, but only along with them within the Gemeinde.

Walther describes the Keys as ‘Gewalt/power’. ‘Gewalt’ is used for the first time in Thesis 5 where he says that “Das Predigtamt hat die Gewalt das evangelium zu predigt and die heiligen Sacramente zu verwalten,” The Predigtamt, thus, has a power, and that power is to preach and to administer the sacraments. Also, the Predigtamt has a second power, “die gewalt eines geistlichen gerichts” the power to judge doctrine/teaching. Nevertheless, following immediately in Thesis 6, Walther connects the term ‘Gewalt to ‘Kirchen’ and says:

Das Predigtamt wird von Gott durche die Gemeinde, als Inhaberin aller Kirchengewalt oder Schlussel, und durch deren von Gott vorgeschriebenen Beruf Übertragen.”

It is clear that ‘Kirchengewalt’ is synonymous with the Keys, and that the Keys, for Walther, must be considered not just with respect to the clergy alone but also with respect to the whole church together. In order to press home this point even further, Walther says that the whole church together, or rather, “die Gemeinde” is “Inhaberin aller Kirchengewalt.” In this way Walther argues precisely in step with Luther in the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope:

“In addition it must be acknowledged that the keys belong and are given not merely to one man, but to the whole church. . . For just as the promise of the Gospel belongs definitely and immediately (“ohne Mittel”) to the whole church.”[35]

With the term ‘Inhaberin’ Walther stresses that the church by its innermost nature and essence carries within her the Keys; unlike absent minded pastors with their car keys, it is not possible for the Holy Church to lose her Keys.

Furthermore, according to Luther, such keys “are nothing other than the Office (Amt) through which the promise is imparted.”[36] The church can never lose, nor be left without the Office through which the promise is imparted. Therefore, it follows in Thesis 2 that:

“das Predigtamt ist kein willkurliches Amt, sondern ein solches Amt, dessen Aufrichtung der Kirche geboten, und an das die Kirche bis an das Ende der tage ordentlicher Weise, gebunded ist.”[37]

In other words, what Thesis 6 refers to by the “Kirchenwalt oder der Schlussel” which is ‘Inhaberin’ within ‘die Gemeinde’ is not merely the Keys but also the Predigtamt through which the Keys are concretely given. Given originally to the church by God are Keys not just abstractly considered, but Keys which actually open and close, absolve and retain, and therefore a Predigtamt which is instituted so that such things may be done. To say that ‘Kirche’ and ‘Gemeinde’ have the ‘Gwent’ of the Keys is for Walther to say that there is also a ‘Predigtamt’, who has them to exercise. Therefore, according to Thesis 5, “Das Predigtamt hat die Gewalt . . .”[38] Indeed, in Thesis 7, Walther binds the two together even more closely: “Die Predigtamt ist die. . . Gewalt”[39] For Walther, not only were the Keys given originally to the Church but also the Predigtamt instituted by God in her midst.

 For Walther, it is divinely ordained for the Predigtamt to have and to exercise such power, and the Predigtamt itself is divinely ordained for the church to have so that they are concretely exercised. When Walther speaks of the Keys as originally and inherently within the church, he is also speaking of the Predigtamt as originally and inherently instituted within the church for the Keys to be exercised. The Predigtamt is not a human institution; it is established by God Himself. What Walther says is ‘conferred’ in Thesis 6 are the Keys upon particular individuals as they are put into the Predigtamt; he is not saying that the Office itself has the Keys conferred upon it. To the contrary, when Walther says the Keys are originally given and immediately to the Gemeinde, he is, at the same time, saying that they are given originally and immediately to the Predigtamt within the Gemeinde to exercise, for the church cannot exist with Keys apart from the Predigtamt ordained to use them. The Predigtamt will only be exercising the Keys when there are concrete persons within the Amt doing so. There must be real flesh and blood persons in the office, and they cannot put themselves there, they must be placed there by another. In this way Walther says “Die Predigtamt wird bei Gott durch die Gemeinde . . . und durch deren Gott vorgeschriehenen Beruf übertragen.”[40]

It was Walther’s so-called ‘übertrangunglehre’ that led to his eventual separation from Loehe, and many today find it to be the decisive expression of Walther’s entire theology of the Ministry. In fact, ‘Übertragen’ is, perhaps, the single most contentious word in all of Walther’s ‘Kirche und Amt’. But it is quite strange that it should be so. Since, understandably, only the most bizarre cultic leaders would claim that God personally and immediately chooses them as He did His original Apostles, Walther’s view that there must be some human instrument of mediation found within the church by which such a conferral and bestowal of office can take place, is one which should be quite uncontroversial. For instance, the position of both Höfling and Loehe on the conferral of the office of the Ministry has been described as ‘übertragung’[41] and even contemporary Roman Catholic scholars can be found to espouse a “Theologie der Amtsübertragung.”[42] The term ‘übertragung’ itself does not have any one uniform meaning, and the term by itself not does not even indicate any particular theology of the Ministry. “There is clearly nothing in the word ‘übertragung’ itself therefore to warrant any jumping to conclusion about a particular ‘theory,’ A word is not yet a theory.”[43]

What is critical here is not just that the term ‘übertragung’ is used but rather more precisely, who is doing the übertragung, what is being ‘übertragt,’ and what therefore, is meant by the term. Höfling used the terms ‘Priesteramt’, ‘Gemeinde’ ‘Kirche’ and ‘Laien’, all with virtually the same meaning, to refer, without distinctions, to the totality of all the believers, who together and individually possess originally the power of the Keys by divine right. A specific Ministry of Word and Sacrament can only exist because it is created by the priesthood, and one can only hold such a position when the priesthood delegates the rights of the individual members and powers to one among themselves, for the sake of good order. According to Höfling, the übertragung involves the individual priests actively transferring their spiritual powers to another, and in that very act, brings the Predigtamt itself (in which the Prediger serves) into existence and shapes it into whatever is thought best. For Höfling, therefore ,the übertragung is the creation of a ministry by an act of the priesthood, which ‘transfers’ their powers of priesthood to one priest in particular, who acts for them, on their behalf, and at their pleasure.

Walter, however, uses the term ‘übertragung’ in a quite different way. Since, for Walther, the Predigtamt exists ‘ready made’[44] within the church by divine institution, no act of übertragen by anyone within the church needs to occur in order for it to be brought into existence. The Amt already exists within the church with the mandate to exercise the Keys; Walther did not teach that the Predigtamt as an Amt is without the authority, power or mandate to exercise the Keys until by some act of übertragen the church decides to deliver such powers to the Amt. The Predigtamt has such inherent power by virtue of its institution from God. The church has no Predigtamt except that which it already has from God Himself in he mandate to exercise the Keys. What the Church does übertragen are not powers to the Predigtamt, but rather the Predigtamt with such powers to individual incumbents, and such individuals to the Predigtamt.

Walther expresses the ‘übertragen’ of ‘Das Predigtamt’ with the most careful precision; it is done “bei Gott durch Gemeinde.” ‘Bei’ clearly makes God the active agent in the übertragung,. God is the One Who confers the Predigtamt upon the one to be a Prediger so that he has an Amt to exercise. For Walther, “the principle efficient cause of the ministry of the Word of God is the Sovereign Lord Himself”.[45] As “an institution of the Triune God” a minister “has been placed at the head of the congregation by God Himself.”[46]

Nevertheless, for Walther the Gemeinde is not without a role in the übertragung of the Predigtamt. The übertragung of the Predigtamt which occurs “bei Gott” only does so “durch Gemeinde.” ‘Durch Gemeinde’ clearly puts the ‘Gemeinde’ in a purely instrumental role in the übertragung. The Gemeinde can never initiate it nor cause it to happen—such, only God can do. On the other hand, neither does God’s übertragung of the Keys and Amt to the Prediger occur except through the human instrumentality of those in the church. No one in Walther’s time, therefore, doubted that an übertragung is necessary. Controversial in 19th Century Lutheranism, however, was precisely who within the church may participate in such an übertragung. Loehe claimed that only the Predigtamt could do so. Höfling responded by saying only the Priesteramt, understanding the term to be synonymous with ‘Laity,’ since, indeed, there is no other divinely ordained category within Gemeinde than Priesteramt. Walther responded to both by saying “Die Gemeinde”[47] understanding this term to refer exclusively to neither laity nor clergy alone, but rather to all the Priesteramt together, Predigtamt and Laity.

Walther argues this quite forcefully in ‘Scripture Proof’ of Thesis 6. First, noting that Acts 6 specifically states “die ganzen Menge”[48] (“the entire multitude”[49]) participated in the selection of deacons, and that “the apostle Matthias was chosen for his high office not merely by the eleven”[50] but by “der ganzen Schaar der versammelten Glaubigen.”[51] (the whole band of gathered believers) Walther argues that the Gemeinde through which the Keys are given can never have anyone within the church excluded. With the word ‘ganzen’ Walther repeatedly includes all the laity to be within the term Gemeinde which is the instrument through which God’s übertragung takes place. However, immediately following this, Walther goes on to say just as forcefully that the Predigtamt cannot also be left out of the Gemeinde as instruments of the übertragung. Indeed “if ministers who already administer the office belong to the calling congregation, they also of course belong to those calling; indeed, according to the office that they administer in the church, they above all.”[52] What Walther states here is that the Gemeinde which calls and serves as the instrument of the übertragen is not to be considered by definition as merely synonymous with ‘laity’ alone. In fact, Walther quite clearly states that if the laity in a Gemeinde with an incumbent clergyman makes a call without him, such call is null and void. “When their co-operation which behooves them on account of their office, is denied, there is no longer any call of the ‘multitude’”[53] In Thesis 6, Walther did not intend to refer to specific inherent ‘rights’ for laity alone. Walther’s übertragung is not intended to place all authority with the Laity alone, which only they alone may confer. Rather, it is the guarantee that the Gemeinde always has the inherent rights of the Keys, which can never be taken from her by anyone outside of her. No matter who she may lack in her midst, she may never lose the capability of being an instrumentality of an übertragung; for “even without them [ministers]” such a thing “is valid.”[54]

Moreover, not only do both Clergy and Laity participate as the one ‘Gemeinde’ in the übertragung, but according to Walther, they do so in two different and specific ways. In the calling of pastors, and the übertragung, the clergy lead the laity, and the laity allow themselves to be lead by them. Walther notes that if there are no officiating ministers in a particular congregation, the laity of such a “vacant congregation should not act alone and according to its own opinion.” They are to “seek the counsel of ministers in office , and “listen to their advice and instruction.”[55] In this way, the laity are to “concede to them [the Predigern] especially “die Prufung und ordentliche offentliche feierliche Einsetzung des Gewahlten überlasse.”[56] (“the examination and the proper, public, solemn installation of the called (pastor) ”[57])

Does the übertragen of the Predigtamt “bei Gott durch Gemeinde” put the Predigtamt in authority over the Gemeinde, or the Gemeinde in authority over the Predigtamt? Before answering such a question, one must first point out that Walther’s understanding of the relationship between clergy and laity cannot but be misunderstood when one attempts to use him to answer the law orientated question, “Who’s in charge?” In both Loehe and Höfling one does sense a framing of the question in such a way. Höfling fears for the church if it were to be under the authority of the clergy. Loehe argues quite strongly for the church to be under “exclusive clerical control.”[58] Walther, to be sure, would completely agree with Loehe that the clergy are to exercise a definite position of leadership over the church. In fact, Walther notes in Thesis 5 that the clergy have a certain power of spiritual judgement (die gewalt eines geistlichen gerichts[59]). The terms which Walther uses here is obviously directly taken from the Apology, the “geistlichem gerichtszwang”[60] (spiritual authority/jurisdiction) which “every bishop has” to “exclude from the Christian congregation those who are found guilty of open crimes and again to receive and absolve them when they are converted.”[61] Such spiritual authority, therefore, refers to nothing more and nothing less than the power of the Office of the Keys. Walther follows the Apology quite closely and faithfully when he links together “the power of jurisdiction” in Thesis 5 with the “power to preach the Gospel to administer the Holy Sacraments.” (gewalt das Evangelium zu predigt undo die heiligen Sacramente zu verhalten[62]). This is the exact explanation which the Apology gives to the “potestate oridinis.”[63] As with the Apology, these are the two ‘powers’ which for Walther define the Office of the Predigtamt. Therefore, for the Confessions and for Walther, the Gewalt and power exercised by the Minister always has reference neither to matters of church polity or control of external administrative structures, nor to the ability to coerce the behaviour of others, but rather to the Means of Grace, and such means, of necessity, always involve Gospel-giving, rather than the compulsion of the law.

But would Walther agree with Loehe that such ‘spiritual judgement’ is ‘exclusive’ to the clergy? In Theses 10 Walther writes that “ judging doctrine” (lehre zu urteilen) which the Predigtamt do by divine right is something which the laity also have the right to do.[64] Walther goes on to say that “the right to judge doctrine has not been taken away from the laymen by the establishment of the ministry,” and indeed, such a right they still have as a “sacred duty”. [65] Therefore, according to Walther, “in the ecclesiastical courts and councils they (the laity) are accorded both a seat and vote together with the clergy.”[66]

One must pay special attention to what Walther is saying here. Firstly, Walther is not saying that with the right to ‘judge doctrine’ and a ‘seat and vote’ that the laity therefore have control over the clergy. To the contrary, all rights given to the laity are carefully expressed as “with the clergy” and not over them. Secondly, neither would it be accurate to say that Walther is making a direct response to Loehe’s ‘exclusive clerical control’ by saying ‘no, clergy and laity control together’ for the simple reason that law oriented ‘control’ is never Walther’s concern when he discusses the ministry and laity of the church. For Walther, not even Christ ‘controls’ the church, any more than any Bridegroom would his Bride, He is rather her self sacrificing and serving Lord, and her gracious Life-giving and protecting Head. As representatives of Christ, it is the vocation of the clergy to bring such a Christ to the laity. They have a divinely ordained position of authority over the laity in the same way which Christ does, in order to serve them. In their service to the laity the clergy have the solemn call to judge doctrine in the same way that a doctor judges the medicine which he gives to the patient. He must judge and distinguish between poison and the good medicine which he is to dispense. In order to be served by his doctor, the patient must listen to him , do what he says, and indeed, obey his instructions. So likewise, the pastor, as a physician of souls, serves the laity. But in order to do so, the laity must listen to their pastor, do what he says, and, indeed obey him in the teaching that he gives to them—only in this way can the pastor be their servant. The pastor serves the laity by faithfully exercising his fatherly authority over them. The laity lets the pastor serve them by submitting to this authority and obeying him.

Thus, in the church, Walther quite explicitly says that “dem Predigtamt gehuhrt Ehrfurcht undo unbedingter gehorsam, wenn der Prediger Gottes Wort fuhrt.”[67] (“to the Ministry there is due respect as well as unconditional obedience when the pastor comes with God’s Word.”[68]) By saying this, Walther faithfully follows the Scriptures: (“Obey those who rule over you” (Heb. 13:17) , and the Confessions (“congregations owe the bishops obedience.”)[69]. For Walther, the pastor has a solemn and divinely ordained role to serve his congregation and he does so by being her head, having authority and in fact, ruling over her. The congregation, in turn, receives the service of the pastor by gladly submitting to their pastor’s headship. They do so by hearing the Word which he preaches, and rendering him ‘unconditional obedience’ when he does. In this way, they are hearing and obeying God Himself. What Walther says about the obedience, dignity and esteem due to the Pastoral Office, “the highest office in the church”[70] quite simply equals and outdoes anything that can be found said by Grabau, Loehe and in fact by any other 19th Century Lutheran.

 Walther dramatically distances himself from Loehe and Höfling, both of whom at times can describe ‘power’ in the church apart from the Means of Grace as a matter of administrative control. Walther especially differed from Höfling, who attempted to thwart power hungry clerics by setting them under the firm control of a lay dominated church polity. To be sure, Walther believed strongly that the laity, and not just the clergy, “also possess [the] right . . . to judge doctrine.” and “therefore in the ecclesiastical courts and councils they are accorded both a seat and vote together with the clergy.”[71] Even so, it is crucial to recognise that Walther did not regard this ‘right’ of the laity to focus primarily on matters of polity in the outward structures of the church. Walther is not saying that the Laity have power over the Clergy! Rather, with Thesis 10, Walther is speaking of things far more essential than mere adiaphoristic matters of church polity; he speaks, indeed, of the church liturgically, the hearing and confessing of the proclaimed Word of God. For instance, in his Scripture Proof, when Walther goes on to explain what he means by ‘judge doctrine’, he appeals first to Paul’s reference to the Lord’s Supper, in Cor. 10:15-16 which the lay would hear and receive in the Church’s liturgy, asking them to judge for themselves about its meaning. Four things are to be noticed here: first, Walther, along with St. Paul, defines ‘judge doctrine’ not simply according to anything the laity may think, but rather to what they concretely hear in the proclaimed Word of God. Secondly, by ‘judge doctrine’ the laity are called upon to hear this word and to discern what it means. Thirdly, by “testing the spirits, whether they are from God” the laity ,when they judge doctrine, are to distinguish what is true in the word of God and distinguish it from what is from false prophets (Matt. 7;15-16, John 10:5).[72] In every way, Walther’s purpose in Thesis 10 is to point the laity away from their own thoughts to the Scriptures. (Acts 17:l1) And fourthly, ‘judge doctrine’ enjoins them to confess this openly before others in the church. Therefore, when Walther expresses the right of laity to ‘judge doctrine’, he is putting the Laity under the Word of God, and thus under pastors through whom the Word is faithfully preached. Walther is underscoring the laity’s right to make sure they are under the preached Word of God, as opposed to being under the influence of false teachers. Therefore, layman and pastor , united together in one Christenstand, in their respective vocations as hearers and proclaimers of God’s Word, are both servants of the Word of God. Walther’s greatness was that he always declined to discuss the Gewalt and Rechte of the Gemeinde, Kirche and the Predigtamt with regard to external matters of Law, but rather only in terms of Gospel matters of the Means of Grace and the proclaiming and hearing of the Word of God. The power of the Predigtamt is to preach the Gospel and to administer the sacraments, and its authority is nothing but the mandate from God Himself to give such gifts, while the Rechte of the Gemeinde is nothing but to receive and hear it.

 Just as God uses the instrumentality of the Means of Grace, (audible word, water, bread and wine), to convey forgiveness and life (one does not give them to oneself!), so also He uses the instrumentality of the Predigtamt in order to do the distributing of Predigt, preaching, and the means of grace, so that the laity may receive them extra nos. Likewise, the Prediger cannot give the Predigtamt to himself, but also must receive it through an instrumentality. Therefore, the Gemeinde, through its call is the instrument through which the Keys are conferred to the particular Prediger. The calling and vocation of the Priesteramt is to hear, and the calling of the Predigtamt is to serve the Priesteramt by preaching to them, for they can only hear when they have something to hear. In each of these ways, the instrument is the divinely appointed extra nos place through which and where God does what He does. The vocation of the Predigtamt is to be an instrument through which God gives His gifts, and the vocation of the Gemeinde is to receive them from the Prediger as from God Himself.

For Walther, the “Predigtamt . . .Amt des Dienstes ist”[73]—a Ministry of service,[74] both of God and the Gemeinde, but not in one and the same way. The differences between the two can be hinted at by the fact that while the Pastor is called ‘by’ God, he is called ‘through’, ‘to’ and ‘for’ the congregation. Firstly, the pastor is a ’Diener Gottes’ (‘servant of God’) because he is sent by Him and acts as a “bottschafter an Christus Statt.”[75] (‘ambassador of Christ’[76]). What he is to do is defined by God Himself in the Divine institution of the Predigtamt. Only from God can a specific Prediger receive the authority to act with the powers of the Predigtamt. It cannot be enough that the pastor is merely sent by a congregation; he must be sent by God Himself, and it must be none other than God Himself Who puts Prediger into the Predigtamt, for only then can he speak on His behalf. The pastor speaks and acts on behalf of God, and in fact Walther can say that “when a ‘Prediger’ uses God’s Word in his Gemeinde, whether by teaching, admonishing, reproving, , or comforting, either publicly or privately,[77] “so hort die Gemeinde aus seinem Munde Jesum Christum selbst.”[78] (“so the congregation hears from his mouth Jesus Christ Himself.”) ,

Secondly, Walther explicitly calls the ‘Eingesetzte’ (the ‘installed one’) a ‘Diener des Gemeinde’ (‘servant of the congregation’). Since what God does on behalf of the congregation is to serve them, it follows that as an instrument of the Lord, the pastor also serves the church. However, the pastor is not the servant of their desires, wants, nor will but rather of God’s desire, wants and will for them which is expressed in the Word of God which the pastor is called to faithfully preach and proclaim.

 Giving the pastor such a authority to speak as a servant of God in His behalf actually keeps ultimate authority with God Himself, and keeps the pastor as His stewards. Ministers are not “proprietors of the salvific treasures of the church but are rather stewards of them.”[79] They can only exercise the power given to them by God to be His instruments. The Gewalt of the Predigtamt is strictly circumvented by the Word of God; he is authorised to speak God’s Word, no more, and no less. For this reason, the Prediger has “no authority to introduce new laws or arbitrarily to establish adiaphora or ceremonies,”[80] and therefore to “demand absolute obedience to what merely appears to him to be best.”[81]

But neither do the laity, in turn, have the right to “demand absolute obedience” from the clergy “to what merely appears to them to be best.” With this statement from the Scripture Proof of Thesis 9-B, it is not Walther’s intention to grant the laity unbridled freedom from the clergy to do whatever they want, much less to lord it over the clergy. Rather, Walther is again chiefly concerned with ‘der ganzen Gemeinde,’[82] and that ‘des Predigers mit den Zuhorern’[83] indeed to act harmoniously ‘with’ one another without law orientated compulsion. In fact, the laity can only exercise their freedom with regard to adiaphora, as Thesis 9-B describes it, when they are under the pastor’s teaching authority, and therefore under the Word of God. It is the whole church together which is to “decide on what should be accepted or rejected” on matters adiaphora, and the laity do, indeed, have full participation in such deliberations, but only according to their vocation within the church as ‘hearers’[84] under the pastor’s vocation as “Lehr, Aussichts, und Wachteramt,”[85] (“teacher, supervisor, and watchman.”)[86] In such a vocation, the pastor is to “direct the deliberations” of the whole church, and he:

“must instruct the congregation (‘die Gemeinde zu unterrichten’) and see to it that also in the determination of adiaphora and the establishment of ecclesiastical regulations and ceremonies the congregation does not act frivolously or establish something that is hurtful.”[87]

In this way the vocations of both Pastor and laity in the Gemeinde are centred and defined by the Word of God; it is what the Prediger preaches and what the hearer hears, and in this way they are “des Predigers mit den Zuhorern”[88]., where matters adiaphora are established evangelically “by way of advice [from the pastors] and with the consent of the whole congregation.”[89]          

The greatness of Walther’s view on Church and Ministry was to order both Pastor and Laity harmoniously together in the church around the Means of Grace under the Word of God. Both Höfling and Loehe, in opposite yet similar ways, inclined toward defining the place of clergy and laity in terms of how they oppose each other and how each is to be free to act unfettered from the other. Contrary to both, Walther defined clergy and laity liturgically, by the mutual God-given vocations which bind each to one another around the on-going Means of Grace, pastors preaching God’s Word to their hearers in the one Gemeinde, ‘Predigern mit den Zuhorern.’

[1] Subtitle, in English, of Walther’s major work on the Office of the Ministry, Kirche und Amt.

[2] Marion R. Winkler, Church Polity, How Clergy Run the Church (Phoenix, Arizona, Marion R.

 Winkler, publisher, 1983), p. 219.

[3] Friederich Schleiermacher, On Religion: Speeches to its cultural Despisers, trans. John Oman

(New York: Harper & Brothers, 1958), p. 151.

[4] Ibid., p. 206.

[5] Walter Sunberg, Ministry in Nineteenth Century European Lutheranism, in “Called and Ordained, Lutheran Perspectives on the Office of the Ministry, ed. By Todd Nichol and Marc Kolden (Minneapolis: Fortress press, 1990), p.79.

[6] Schleiermacher, p. 151.

[7] Friederich Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith, trans. and ed. H. R. Mackintosh and J. S. Stewart (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1928), p. 615.

[8] Wilhelm Loehe, Gasammelte Werke, ed. Klaus Ganzert (Neuendettelsau: Fremund-Verlag, 1954), p. 5:274, quoted by Sundberg, p. 85.

[9] Ibid., p. 294.

[10] Ibid., p. 262.

[11] Ibid., p. 325, quoted by Sundberg, p. 85.

[12] “Das Amt und die Amter in der apostolischen Kirche,” Zeitschrift fur Protestantismus und Kirche 18 (1849): 129, quoted by Sundberg, p. 86.

[13] Sundberg, p. 86.

[14] Ibid., p. 86.

[15] Kurt E. Marquart The Church and Her fellowship, Ministry, and Governance (Ft. Wayne, In.: The International Foundation for Lutheran Confessional Research, 1990) p. 124.

[16] Conrad Bergendoff The Doctrine of the Church in American Lutheranism (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1959)

[17] L. Fuerbringer, ed., Briefe on C. F. W. Walther, vol. 2 (st. Louis, 1915-16), 88. Letter from Walther to Marbach on 4 Jan. 1854.

[18] William W. Schumacher, trans. And ed., The Hirtenbrief of J.A.A.Grabau and its Evaluation by the Saxon Pastors of Missouri (St. Louis, MI, n.p., 1998) p. 14.

[19]C. F. W. Walther Kirche und Amt (Erlangen: C. A. Ph. Th. Blassing, 1852). p. 193.

[20] Norman Nagel, The Doctrine of the Office of the Holy Ministry in the Confessions and in Walther’s Kirche und Amt, Concordia Journal, Oct. 1989, p. 443.

[21] From J. T. Mueller’s translation of Kirche und Amt, Church and Ministry (St. Louis: Concordia, 1987), p. 178.

[22] Kurt E. Marquart, The Gospel Ministry: Distinctions Within and Without, p. 15

[23] Mueller, p. 178.

[24] Ibid., p. 179.

[25] Robert Kolb, Ministry in Martin Luther and the Lutheran Confessions, in Nichol, p. 65,

 endnote 8.

[26] Thesis 1

[27] Thesis 2

[28] Lowell Green, Walter and Grabau Revisted, Logia, Eastertide, 1996, p. 25.

[29] Ibid., p. 25.

[30] Jerald C. Joersz, Walther and the Ministry, Concordia Historical Institute Quarterly 63, 3 (Fall, 1990), p. 124.

[31] Walther, Thesis 4, p. 246

[32] Walther, p. 273.

[33] Mueller, p. 220

[34] Thesis 6

[35] Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, 24., quoted by Walther under ‘Witnesses’ for Thesis 6, Mueller, p. 220.

[36] Treatise, 24.

[37] Thesis 2.

[38] Thesis 5

[39] Thesis 7

[40] Thesis 6

[41] See Marquart, The Church, p. 113.

[42] P. Blaser, “Amt und Eucharistie im Neuen Testament,” 209 and passim, quoted in Marquart, The Church, p. 113.

[43] Marquart, The Church, p. 113.

[44] Ibid., p. 114.

[45] Scripture Proof of Thesis 9, Mueller, p. 303.

[46] Ibid, p. 303.

[47] Especially Thesis 6 and 7.

[48] Walther, p. 273.

[49] Mueller, p. 219.

[50] Mueller, p. 219.

[51] Walther, p. 273.

[52] Mueller, p. 220.

[53] Mueller, p. 220.

[54] Mueller, p. 220.

[55] Mueller, p. 220.

[56] Walther, p. 273.

[57] Mueller, p. 220.

[58] Loehe, p. 5:274

[59] Walter, Thesis 5, p. 264.

[60] Apology, XXVIII, 13, quoted by Walther under “Zeuguisse der Kirche in ihren offentlichen Bekenntnissen,” for Thesis 5, p. 266.

[61] Mueller, p. 214.

[62] Thesis 5.

[63] Walther, p. 266.

[64] Thesis 10, Mueller, p. 332.

[65] Scripture Proof, Thesis 10. Mueller, p. 332.

[66] Thesis 10, Mueller, p. 332.

[67] Thesis 9, Walther, p. 404.

[68] Thesis 9, Mueller, p. 303.

[69] Scripture Proof, Thesis 9, Mueller, p. 304.

[70] Thesis 8, Mueller, p. 289.

[71] Thesis 10, Mueller, p. 332.

[72] Scripture Proof, Thesis 10, Mueller, p. 332.

[73] Thesis 7, Scripture Proof, Walther, p. 354-5.

[74] Thesis 7, Scripture Proof, Mueller, p. 268

[75] Walther, p. 404.

[76] Mueller, p. 303.

[77] Mueller. p. 303-4

[78] Walther, p. 405.

[79] Marquart, The Church, p. 108.

[80] Thesis 9-B, Mueller, p. 311.

[81] Mueller, Scripture Proof, Thesis 9, p. 312.

[82] Walther, Beweis aus Gottes Wort, Thesis 9-B, p. 416

[83] Ibid., p. 416.

[84] Mueller, p. 312.

[85] Walther. p. 417.

[86] Mueller, p. 312.

[87] Mueller, p. 312.

[88] Mueller, p. 312.

[89] Mueller, p. 313.